March 11, 2016

Florida falls to Texas A&M, NCAA Tournament hopes likely dashed

GAINESVILLE -- After a gut-wrenching 72-66 loss to Texas A&M in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals on Friday, Florida will likely watch the NCAA Tournament from home for the second straight season. 

The Gators, slotted among the ‘Next Four Out’ in ESPN’s latest bracket, needed to beat the top-seeded Aggies in Nashville to have any legitimate chance at securing an at-large berth. 

While junior guard Kasey Hill (18 points, two assists) and Dorian Finney-Smith (11 points, nine rebounds, three blocks) played well, Florida (19-14, 9-9 SEC) was hammered inside, allowing 44 points in the paint -- its most in five years, per ESPN. 

The Gators, who moved to just 1-7 against ranked teams, will officially await their fate on Selection Sunday, but they’re almost certainly bookmarked for a high seed in the NIT. 

However, Florida will be forced to play on the road due to the ongoing renovations at the O’Connell Center. 

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March 10, 2016

Problem solved? Pineiro perfect on first day of spring practice

GAINESVILLE -- Florida’s kicking game was a disaster last season. 

The Gators made just 7 of 17 field goals -- the second-worst percentage nationally -- and the situation became so dire that coach Jim McElwain solicited students to try and find a solution. 

McElwain’s midseason ploy didn’t work either, but the second-year coach hopes he’s finally found an answer to UF’s problems. 

Enter Eddy Pineiro. 

The Miami native and No. 1 JUCO kicker enters the spring with an opportunity to win the starting job immediately. Pineiro has never kicked a live field goal -- not in high school or at ASA College in North Miami Beach -- but the redshirt sophomore was so impressive on the recruiting circuit that both McElwain and Alabama coach Nick Saban desperately sought his signature. 

When Pineiro committed to the Gators in December, McElwain went nuts.

On Wednesday, UF opened spring practice and Pineiro was perfect kicking field goals, drilling a 58-yarder to end the day. 

“He actually made them all, which was interesting,” McElwain said, smiling. 

“We’ve got to work on our timing, but the ball got up really quick. He finished here with, what was it, a 58-yarder here with everybody around him.”

Pineiro routinely posts viral videos nailing 70-yard field goals or trick shot kicks, so much so that McElwain joked about the kicker’s instant popularity Wednesday.

“This is the first time I haven’t seen it on social media,” McElwain said, chuckling. 

“But the ball comes up real quick and goes very far.”

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March 09, 2016

On the rise: UF releases latest hype video before spring practice

GAINESVILLE -- Florida opens spring camp today, looking to build on last season's surprising 10-4 season. 

On Tuesday, second-year coach Jim McElwain said the players "have an understanding on the expectations and how to go about their business now."

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March 08, 2016

Anzalone cleared but Ivey and Powell to miss spring practice

GAINESVILLE -- The Florida Gators open spring practice Wednesday, and Antonio Callaway and Treon Harris won’t be the only notables not in camp. 

While UF’s star receiver and former starting quarterback are suspended indefinitely, the Gators will also be without a number of injuried players including junior wideout Brandon Powell (foot) and offensive lineman Martez Ivey (shoulder). Both Powell and Ivey, a former five-star recruit who started multiple games as a freshman, had offseason surgeries. 

Meanwhile, kickers Jorge Powell (ACL) and Neil MacInnes (ACL) will also miss the spring, and cornerback Quincy Wilson (sports hernia) and defensive tackle Joey Ivie (sports hernia) will be limited/non-contact.

“They’ve been running them pretty good,” UF coach Jim McElwain said of Wilson and Ivie. 

“In fact, Quincy, I was really impressed with how he ran yesterday. I don’t see any lingering effects there.”

Still, Florida will be short on numbers in the secondary this spring, so early enrollees McArthur Burnett and Chauncey Gardner will get ample opportunities to impress. 

“The numbers are short, so Chauncey and McArthur are going to get tons of reps,” McElwain said.

“And here’s the good thing: They’re going to be taught as well by some really good players.”

Finally, McElwain delivered some good news on linebacker Alex Anzalone, saying the former starter has been cleared for non-contact work in practice after missing 12 games with a significant shoulder injury last season. 

“Alex had a real bounce in his step when he came back with the news,” McElwain said. 

“In fact, he texted me on my birthday to let me know. You can tell the excitement is there. ‘Man, this is finally over. The duct tape was solid.’”

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Callaway, Harris out for spring, haven't been with team since Jan.

GAINESVILLE -- Star receiver Antonio Callaway and former starting quarterback Treon Harris are suspended for spring practice due to undisclosed reasons, Florida announced Tuesday. 

The Gators open camp Wednesday.  

Coach Jim McElwain refused to discuss specifics of the suspensions, only saying that two Miami natives haven’t participated in offseason workouts since January and “are still taking care of some schoolwork and other stuff.”

When pressed on the players' future, McElwain repeatedly said, “That’s the last we’ll talk about it.”

Last season, Callaway emerged as Florida’s most dynamic playmaker since Percy Harvin, recording 678 receiving yards and four touchdowns. The freshman also set a school-record for punt return yardage, scoring twice on 28 returns including a touchdown in the SEC Championship Game. Callaway even threw for a score in Florida’s loss to Michigan in the Citrus Bowl. 

Meanwhile, Harris started the final eight games of 2015 after starter Will Grier was suspended for violating the NCAA’s performance-enhancing drug policy on Oct. 12. Florida’s offense sputtered almost immediately, and the Gators went 4-4 down the stretch. 

Harris finished the year with 1,676 yards, nine touchdowns and six interceptions. The sophomore completed just 50.6 percent of his passes and was rumored to transition to receiver this spring, with McElwain saying, “Possibly. We’ll see about that. We’ll talk about it when it happens.”

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March 07, 2016

Mac's speaking tour set; UF roundup on baseball, softball & more

GAINESVILLE -- Fresh off a surprising 10-4 inaugural campaign, Florida coach Jim McElwain will speak to nine different clubs across the state this spring.

McElwain will begin his speaking tour on April 5 -- just three days before UF’s annual Orange & Blue Debut on April 8.

Four of McElwain’s assistants will also make appearances around the state, including a stop at the Palm Beach County Gator Club in West Palm Beach. Times and dates will be announced in the future.  

Coach Jim McElwain’s speaking schedule:

April 5 - Gainesville Quarterback Club (Gainesville)

April 11 - Polk County Gator Club (Lakeland)

April 13 - Broward County Gator Club (Fort Lauderdale)

April 19 - Gator club of Jacksonville (Jacksonville)

April 26 - Southwest Florida Gator Club/Naples Gator Club (Fort Myers)

April 27 - Tampa Gator Club/Pinellas Gator Club (Tampa)

May 3 - Space Coast Gator Club (Melbourne)

May 25 - Central Florida Gator Club (Orlando)

May 26 - Fightin’ Gator Touchdown Club (Gainesville)

UF ROUNDUP!

Every once in a while, Gator Clause will take a look at how the Gators are doing in sports other than football and men’s basketball. 

The short answer today: They’re dominating. Everyone. 

UF is currently ranked No. 1 in baseball and softball, and both teams completed impressive sweeps over the weekend. 

Florida’s baseball team moved to 12-1 after a 8-6 win over Dartmouth on Sunday. Sophomore slugger JJ Schwarz smashed his third homer on the year, while junior centerfielder Buddy Reed slapped a two-run triple for his sixth extra-base hit on the early season.

Friday night starter Logan Shore, a potential first round pick in June’s MLB Draft, continued his excellent start to the 2016 season, throwing seven shutout innings with eight strikeouts against Dartmouth. The junior moved to 3-0 and has allowed just a single run in 21.0 innings, adding 22 strikeouts and only two walks. 

Meanwhile, UF’s softball team remained undefeated after winning the Aquafina Invitational. The Gators outscored their five opponents by a 44-5 margin and their 22-0 record is tied for the third-best start in school history. 

Florida’s Delanie Gourley and Aleshia Ocasio are one of the best pitching tandems in the country, as the two hurlers are a combined 15-0 with three saves and a minuscule 0.45 ERA. 

Finally, UF’s lacrosse team knocked off No. 10 Stony Brook 7-6 on Sunday, moving to 7-0 on the year. Amanda O’Leary’s squad is No. 3 nationally and is 4-0 against ranked teams this season. Florida’s No. 8 women’s golf team won the Gator Invitational on Sunday, beating runner-up Florida State by 11 strokes. 

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Bracketology: Florida heads to Nashville among the 'First Four Out'

GAINESVILLE -- Florida’s road win at Missouri snapped a four-game losing streak and secured the No. 8 seed in the SEC Tournament. 

Now the Gators head to Nashville with more work to do.

UF’s path to the NCAA Tournament remains foggy, but at a minimum, the Gators need to get to the conference semifinals (meaning defeating both Arkansas and top-seeded Texas A&M) to even seriously be considered for an at-large berth. 

Florida (18-13, 9-9 SEC) knocked off Arkansas 87-83 on Feb. 3 in Gainesville. The two teams will square off Thursday at 1 p.m. on the SEC Network.  

Despite Saturday’s victory, the Gators remain among the 'First Four Out,' according to the Bracket Matrix. Florida ranks No. 55 in RPI and is just 2-8 against the RPI Top 50. The Gators, who have the nation’s No. 11 strength of schedule, are slotted higher in Ken Pomeroy’s advanced ratings (No. 44) and head coach Mike White admitted he’s scanned “certain websites” for bracket projections. 

However, White also acknowledged UF’s résumé won’t matter much if it doesn’t beat Arkansas on Thursday.

“That’s all we can really worry about,” White said.

“I can make arguments for us right now in terms of our strength of schedule. Not only non-conference schedule, but the strength of the schedule we played within our league. The number of Top-100 wins, and so on and so forth. But it’s fruitless to waste time and energy on any of that. It takes away from your focus on the Hogs.”

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March 03, 2016

Former Florida QB Will Grier visits West Virginia University

GAINESVILLE -- Former Florida quarterback Will Grier visited West Virginia University on Wednesday, per the Charleston Gazette-Mail

Grier is a native of North Carolina and is hoping to transfer somewhere closer to home. 

The former four-star recruit led the Gators to a surprising 6-0 start last season before his Oct. 12 suspension ultimately ended his UF career. 

Grier violated the NCAA’s performance-enhancing drug policy and later lost his appeal to have the 12-month suspension reduced. The 6-2, 200-pound quarterback opted to leave the program in mid December, but it remains unknown if he will be forced to miss the entire 2016 season and first six games of 2017 (as the NCAA rules stipulate) or if his suspension will run concurrently. 

Grier tossed 10 touchdowns and had the SEC’s highest completion percentage before his suspension, so the quarterback could be a good fit for WVU’s pass-happy, spread offense under coach Dana Holgorsen. 

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March 01, 2016

Florida loses fourth straight, NCAA Tournament hopes fading fast

GAINESVILLE -- The Florida Gators bid adieu to senior Dorian Finney-Smith, the current construction of the O’Connell Center and maybe their NCAA Tournament hopes, too, on Tuesday night. 

Another dismal defensive effort coupled with an atrocious night at the free throw line sent UF to its fourth-straight loss -- including third in a row at home -- falling 88-79 to No. 22 Kentucky. 

Barring a deep run (or even winning the SEC Tournament), Florida has played itself out of the NCAA Tournament. 

“I feel for our guys,” UF coach Mike White said, looking exasperated. 

“I thought we played really hard. I thought we played with a ton of energy. … I don’t know. I’m a loss with free throws.”

In the school's final game before the O'Dome undergoes a $65 million renovation, the Gators (17-13, 8-9 SEC) shot 43.2 percent from the charity stripe (16 of 37), missing 21 free throws.

“You can’t win big games if you don’t make free throws,” Finney-Smith said, who scored 15 points on a sour Senior Night. 

The Gators were undone by another poor defensive performance, too, allowing 85 points on at least 50 percent shooting for the third-straight game.  

Kentucky hit 7 of 10 from 3, including shooting a perfect 5 for 5 from behind-the-arc in the second half. 

And yet, Florida was competitive early, closing the first half on a 14-4 run to cut a double-digit deficit to two points. But after halftime, Kentucky quickly seized control and pushed its lead back up to 10 within the first four minutes of the half. 

UF center John Egbunu delivered a career-high 27 points (including nine dunks), but his monster performance wasn’t nearly enough as Florida’s guards were once again completely overmatched by Kentucky’s backcourt. 

Wildcats (22-8, 12-5 SEC) point guard Tyler Ulis finished with 19 points and 11 assists, while freshman sharpshooter Jamal Murray chipped in 21 points and five dimes. 

“Ulis is arguably the best point guard in the country,” White said.

“You can’t rattle him. He’s just smart. He really understands how to play.”

While UK’s guards dominated, Skal Labissiere made the most of his first start since Dec. 12, scoring 11 points and grabbing eight rebounds. The five-star freshman recorded his first game in double-figures since Jan. 27. 

Meanwhile, UF’s trio of guards were exposed against UK for the second time on the year. After a combined 4 of 21 performance in early February, Kasey Hill, KeVaughn Allen and Chris Chiozza combined for just 25 points and 10 assists on 9 of 35 shooting Tuesday night.  

Florida ends its regular season Saturday at Missouri. 

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2016 NFL Combine: Hargreaves, McCalister and Neal shine

GAINESVILLE -- Eight former Florida players were invited to the 2016 NFL Combine in Indianapolis over the weekend. 

Take a look at how they performed:

RB Kelvin Taylor (5-10, 207): 4.60 40-yard dash, 15 reps on bench press, 32” vertical jump, 9’5” broad jump

DT Jon Bullard (6-3, 285): 4.93 40-yard dash, 23 reps on bench press, 32” vertical jump, 9’7” broad jump, 4.56 20-yard shuttle

CB Vernon Hargreaves III (5-10, 204): 4.50 40-yard dash, 15 reps on bench press, 39” vertical jump, 10’10” broad jump, 3.98 20-yard shuttle

S Keanu Neal (6-0, 211): 4.62 40-yard dash, 17 reps on bench press, 38” vertical jump, 11’0”, 4.38 20-yard shuttle, 11.58 60-yard shuttle

WR Demarcus Robinson (6-1, 203): 4.59 40-yard dash, 34.5” vertical jump, 10’3” broad jump, 4.19 20-yard shuttle, 6.77 three-cone drill

DE Alex McCalister (6-6, 239): 4.8 40-yard dash, 34.5” vertical jump, 10’8” broad jump, 4.0 20-yard shuttle, 7.01 three-cone drill

TE Jake McGee (6-5, 250): 17 reps on bench press

Takeaways: First, linebacker Antonio Morrison was noticeably absent, as Morrison reportedly skipped the combine due to an illness. 

Meanwhile, a number of former Florida players in Indy helped themselves after solid showings. Hargreaves didn’t flash blazing speed, but the former All-American finished in the Top 5 of three different events and showcased his complete skill-set during various drills.

Like Hargreaves, Neal didn’t run an exceptional time, but the hard-hitting safety dominated the agility drills and displayed excellent size and athleticism. 

McCalister, who measured as the tallest and longest lineman at the combine, was born to excel in such a setting and the pass rusher did not disappoint. He posted Top 10 numbers in every event he participated in, finishing with top scores in two events. 

Bullard also had a really nice showing and kept himself in position to be a late first-round pick. 

Finally, Taylor had a rough combine, posting poor scores in multiple events and then reportedly struggling in the receiving drills, too. The combine was never going to be an environment where Taylor would shine, but the tailback didn't do himself any favors with such a disappointing performance.

Robinson addressed his off-the-field issues but didn't dazzle athletically, while McGee chose not to participate in any running drills (most likely to do with lasting effects from his late-season injury that caused him to miss the Citrus Bowl and later drop out of the Senior Bowl). 

Each of Florida’s attendees, as well as guys like Morrison and defensive back Brian Poole (who was not invited to the combine) will get a chance to showcase their skills again for scouts and coaches at UF’s Pro Day on March 22. 

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February 29, 2016

Gators on the verge of playing themselves out of the tournament

GAINESVILLE -- Has Florida’s bubble burst?

Almost.

After three straight losses, the Gators are no longer a consensus NCAA Tournament team, per the omnipotent Bracket Matrix

Saturday’s 96-91 loss at LSU was yet another blow to UF’s postseason hopes, capping a month of missed opportunities. The Gators, who’s RPI dropped 13 spots to No. 45, have lost five of seven and won just three games in February. 

ESPN now lists Florida among its “Last Four In,” while CBS groups the Gators in the “First Four Out” category. 

Florida hosts No. 22 Kentucky on Tuesday night in desperate need of a victory. The showdown against the Wildcats also marks the final game in the O’Connell Center before the facility’s $65 million renovation gets underway. 

“We’ve squandered some opportunities and this is one of the last few we’ll have,” first-year coach Mike White said. 

“Obviously, this is a big, big opportunity for our guys to overcome some mistakes and failures. It will be a very, very difficult game to win, but if we play well -- we’re at home -- we should have our chances.”

Florida’s tailspin actually started in Lexington during a 80-61 loss to Kentucky on Feb. 6. The Gators were lit up for 35 points by ‘Cats freshman Jamal Murray, and their once-stingy defense hasn’t been the same since. 

After ranking among the Top 10 nationally in defensive efficiency for the first three months of the season, Florida has been torched in the last month, allowing 70-plus points six times -- including four games over 80 points. 

“Our emphasis probably moved toward offense too much [lately],” White said, adding that UF held a defense-only practice Monday. 

“We’ve spent an inordinate amount of time shooting free throws, running dry offense by shooting a ton of jump shots, individual skill development. … It’s always a balancing act, and we’ve got to be back to defending at a high level to give ourselves a chance.”

Especially against Kentucky. 

As it stands, Florida (17-11, 8-8) is grouped in a five-way tie for sixth place in the SEC. To make the NCAA Tournament, the Gators likely need to beat Kentucky and Missouri in the regular-season finale. Otherwise, UF may have to make a deep run -- or perhaps win -- the SEC Tournament in Nashville, Tennessee to even reach the NCAA’s. 

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February 27, 2016

Roundup: NFL Combine updates, UF announces staff addition

GAINESVILLE -- While Florida’s basketball team aims to right the ship tonight at LSU (8:30 p.m., SEC Network), eight former Gator football players are participating in the 2016 NFL Combine in Indianapolis. 

After becoming just the second 1,000-yard rusher at UF in the last decade, tailback Kelvin Taylor was the first to work out in front of league executives, scouts and coaches. 

It didn’t go particularly well, though. 

Taylor, who weighted in at 209 pounds, ran the 40-yard dash in 4.60 seconds -- the sixth-slowest among all running backs. 

He also struggled in the agility drills (vertical leap, broad jump) and didn’t even participate in the three-cone drill or shuttle run. Taylor bench-pressed 225-pound 15 times -- fourth-fewest among all tailbacks. 

It was a disappointing showing for the junior, who immediately took to Twitter in now deleted tweets and told his fans and critics to just wait. 

"LOL sit back in keep watching," he wrote. Adding, "Film don't lie! Im a baller see you guys at pro day."

Florida's Pro Day is set for March 22. 

ROBINSON TALKS

Demarcus Robinson will workout Saturday, but UF’s former enigmatic wideout held court with the media on Thursday and opened up about his issues at Florida. 

According to SEC Country, the talented receiver called himself “selfish,” saying he wanted to “tell the truth and get it out all in the open now.”

Robinson added, “I’m not the same person I was three years ago.”

Robinson was suspended four times in three seasons at UF, but 6-1, 203-pounder said he didn’t fail a drug test after his freshman season. He admitted to spending 45 days at Florida Recovery Center to address his addiction issues in 2013. 

After a breakout sophomore season (810 yards, seven touchdowns), Robinson caught just 48 passes for 522 yards and two touchdowns in 2015. He was suspended for Florida’s regular-season finale against Florida State, too, telling Jacksonville radio station 1010XL-AM that he met with a marketing representative who “was offering me something that I’d never been offered before.”

Robinson was reinstated for the SEC Championship Game and finished his UF career with just one catch for 17 yards in the Citrus Bowl against Michigan. 

GATORS ADD SUPPORT STAFFER

Florida added a veteran assistant to its support staff Friday, announcing the hiring of longtime NFL coach Bret Ingalls. 

Ingalls, who spent the past seven seasons with the New Orleans Saints, will serve as a quality control staffer on offense. The 27-year coaching vet is a Washington native and served as an offensive coordinator four times (at San Diego State, Louisville, Northern Iowa and Idaho) in college football. 

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February 25, 2016

Q&A: Torrian Gray talks decision to leave Virginia Tech for Florida

GAINESVILLE -- Torrian Gray spent a decade coaching at his alma mater, but Florida’s new defensive backs assistant left Virginia Tech to come home. 

Gray, 41, is a native of Lakeland and talked Thursday about the opportunity to return to the state where his mother and six siblings still reside. 

“To have a chance to come here, I was ecstatic about that,” said Gray, who played for the Hokies in the mid ‘90s and coached 10 NFL draft picks at the school in the last decade.

“To come home was just exciting to have that opportunity.”

Florida hired Gray on Feb. 4, and on Thursday he addressed a number of topics including DBU, recruiting with the Gator crest, learning a new scheme and evaluating Florida’s secondary talent.

What are your early impressions of Florida’s secondary?

“I’m very impressed with the top-end talent we have. We have to develop some depth there, but it’s pretty impressive the guys we do have coming back. I’m excited to start working with those guys. After those guys, we’ve got to build a lot of depth.”

So who is really the Defensive Back University?

“I think you got three or four schools that call themselves DBU, maybe more. Virginia Tech was one of the schools that called themselves DBU. Florida calls themselves DBU, LSU too. I hear Texas. I guess it’s whatever you think. We think we’re DBU here at the University of Florida, and we’re going to roll with that.” 

What is your philosophy on recruiting?

“It’s about building relationships, finding out who are the people that you really need to get close with and who’s important to the student-athlete that you’re recruiting. You always want to try to get in and build a great relationship with the student-athlete and who’s going to be important to that student-athlete’s decision.”

Did you have any prior relationships with Geoff Collins or Randy Shannon? How different is the scheme at Florida versus what you implemented at Va. Tech?

“I hadn’t had a lot of relationship with Coach Collins, or Coach Rumph or Coach Shannon for the most part. Getting to know those guys the past couple weeks has been pretty neat. The scheme that we do here is almost a lot different from what we do at Virginia Tech. It’s exciting for me.

I get to grow as a coach and get to learn Coach Collins’ scheme and what those guys are doing. … At Virginia Tech, we kind of got into playing a lot of man coverage. Almost every play. Our zones were matchup-zones. But you can only do so much in college football. You're either playing man or playing zone, but it's just kind of from the concept and the way we did things is a little bit different than here. At the end of the day you can only do certain things, but it's still a lot different.”

After 10 years in the ACC, how different is it recruiting at an SEC school now?

“Being in the ACC, and you come down to Georgia and it seems there was an awe or something about the SEC, an aura that you went up against sometimes. Some kids it didn’t matter, but for a lot of kids it did. If I’m spot recruiting Florida, sometimes it does matter. For some kids it didn’t, but there seems to be an aura for a lot of student-athletes about the SEC. It’ll be fun to see if that works in our favor now.”

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February 23, 2016

UF suffers deflating home loss vs. Vandy, tourney hopes take a hit

GAINESVILLE -- Florida’s tournament hopes took a significant blow Tuesday night. 

The Gators (17-11) suffered a crushing defeat to the Vanderbilt Commodores, surrendering their most points allowed in five years in a 87-74 loss in the O'Connell Center.  

In front of a number of NBA scouts, Vandy center Damian Jones carved up Florida, scoring a career-high 27 points on 12-of-13 shooting. UF’s defense was a sieve all evening, allowing 10 threes and a season-high 57.7 shooting from the field. 

“They were unbelievable,” Florida coach Mike White said of Vandy. 

“It needed to be one of our best defensive efforts. When the opposing center goes 12 of 13 from the field it usually doesn’t mean good things for you.” 

The Commodores shredded the Gators with their patience, passing and movement. Jones led the way, but Matthew Fisher-Davis (12), Wade Baldwin (13) and Jeff Roberson (18) all chipped in with big performances, too.  

Vandy also stunned the Gators with a pair of circus shots, drilling an 80-foot heave to end the first half and another buzzer-beating 3 after halftime.  

“My goodness, that’s eight points right there because the play before the 80 footer was a layup,” White said.

“Just huge plays.” 

And yet, after trailing by as many as 11 points in the second half, Florida slowly cut its deficit to two and appeared to almost wipe away all its brutal luck. 

Instead, the Gators missed six straight shots with a chance to take the lead and eventually saw Vandy's lead balloon back to double-digits. Florida's freshman guard KeVaughn Allen had a really rough night (0 of 7 from the field), as did senior forward Dorian Finney-Smith (1 of 7 shooting). Reserve forward Justin Leon scored a team-high 15 points, while center John Edgbunu (14 points) and forward Devin Robinson (11 points) finished with double-figures. 

Now, Florida’s NCAA Tournament prospects are suddenly on shaky ground. With three losses in their last four games, the Gators are inching towards the wrong side of the bubble, and Saturday’s showdown at LSU could be fight for the same spot in the tournament.   

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February 22, 2016

Bracketology: Florida on the right side of the bubble ... for now

GAINESVILLE -- Florida snapped a six-game road losing streak last week at Georgia, but the Gators still aren’t squarely off the bubble after blowing a late-lead on the road against South Carolina on Saturday. 

UF is now 17-10, 8-6 in the SEC, with the nation’s No. 11 strength of schedule and No. 32 RPI. While the Gators, who rank No. 36 in Ken Pomeroy’s advanced ratings, have just one “bad loss” at Tennessee, their 2-7 record against the RPI Top 50 hurts their résumé.

With four games remaining on the regular season slate, Florida needs to beat Vanderbilt and Missouri to solidify their standing on the right side of the bubble heading into the conference tournament. Win at LSU or upset Kentucky at home and suddenly Florida would be in really good shape to make the NCAA Tournament in Mike White’s first season. 

The latest brackets…

ESPN projection: No. 8 seed (East, Brooklyn) 

CBS projection: No. 10 seed (West, Spokane)

USA Today projection: No. 9 seed (South, Raleigh)

Big Lead projection: No. 9 seed (no specifics)

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February 17, 2016

Florida Gators to kickoff spring practice on March 9

GAINESVILLE -- Florida will return to the gridiron on March 9, the school announced Wednesday. 

The reigning SEC East champs will kickoff the first of 15 spring practices, with the quarterback competition between walk-on Luke Del Rio and Purdue transfer Austin Appleby expected to be the storyline of camp. 

A dozen early enrollees will also debut for UF, including quarterbacks Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask and kicker Eddy Pineiro. 

The Gators will conclude spring practice with the annual Orange and Blue Debut on April 8 -- hosting the event on a Friday night for the first time in school history. 

UF will also hold its Pro Day on March 22. 

Florida’s tentative practice schedule:

March 9

March 11

March 14

March 16

March 18

March 21

March 23

March 24

March 28

March 30

April 1

April 4

April 5

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February 15, 2016

Bracketology: Florida inching toward bubble after loss to Alabama

GAINESVILLE -- Florida isn’t on the bubble yet, but the Gators are inching dangerously close according to multiple bracketologists.

ESPN, USA Today, The Big Lead and CBSSports all released their updated projections Monday, and Florida was a 9-seed in three brackets and an 11th-seed in CBS expert Jerry Palm's latest bracket.  

UF lost at home to Alabama on Saturday, falling to 16-9 and dropping 10 spots in RPI (now 31). The Gators rank No. 34 in Ken Pomeroy’s ratings, but they face an uphill battle ahead, with four of their final six games on the road. Florida is just 1-6 in true road games this season -- with six-straight losses away from Gainesville. 

The Gators play at Georgia, a team just outside the bubble, on Tuesday before a weekend date at South Carolina. 

“It’s a huge week,” point guard Chris Chiozza said. 

“We’ve been struggling on the road this year, so it’s the last stretch of the year. It’s going to be huge for us. We’ve got a lot of away games and they’re against pretty great teams -- especially when they’re at home. So it’s going to be a huge week. We’ve just got to come out and focus, prepare and just ready to go to war every night.”

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February 13, 2016

Ice cold: UF suffers bad home loss with woeful shooting effort

GAINESVILLE -- Florida dropped a conference game at home for the first time all season, losing 61-55 to Alabama in its worst offensive performance on the season. 

The Gators shot a season-low 28.6 percent from the field, hitting just two field goals in the final six minutes of the game. 

Alabama (15-9, 6-6 SEC) ended an 11-game losing streak in Gainesville despite both its starting guards fouling out inside the final six minutes of the game. Senior guard Retin Obasohan, averaging 16.7 points a game, led all scorers with 15 points before picking up his fifth foul with 5:35 remaining. 

It was an ugly and dispiriting loss for UF’s tournament hopes, as the Gators (15-9, 6-6 SEC) play three of their next four games on the road. 

Three thoughts on Florida’s first loss at home to Alabama since 1995:

1. LAYING BRICKS 

The Gators were brutal offensively, going 3-for-21 from downtown and just 16-for-27 from the charity stripe. They missed (what seemed) like a million layups and bunnies, too. 

“We missed a lot of chippies. Chippies that usually go in,” senior Dorian Finney-Smith said. 

“It just wasn’t our night offensively.”

UF opened the game just 1 of 7 and never discovered any flow or rhythm. The Gators had 12 turnovers -- five by point guard Chris Chiozza -- and scored just 11 second chance points despite grabbing 23 offensive rebounds. 

“I’m not sure I’ve seen a box score like that,” UF coach Mike White said. 

Finney-Smith and freshman guard KeVaughn Allen both scored 12 points to lead the way but it wasn’t nearly enough. 

The Gators never really established Finney-Smith offensively, as Alabama's aggressive defense neutralized the senior the first 30 minutes of action (just five shots)

2. EGBUNO 

Florida tried to dominate the paint early, repeatedly feeding center John Ebgunu to no avail.  

The sophomore had a miserable night, going just 2-for-9 from the floor and a paltry 6-for-14 from the free throw line. Egbunu started the game 0 of 4 and struggled with pressure in the post (3 turnovers) and against the long arms of Alabama center Jimmy Taylor.  

He grabbed 10 rebounds, five on the offensive glass, but was posterized twice by Taylor, who controlled the paint all evening (11 points, 5 blocks). 

“I thought Jimmy Taylor dominated the game defensively,” White said. 

“They did a great job on John in the post.” 

3. BACK ON THE BUBBLE?

UF entered the day a 7th-seed in ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi’s latest projections, but its path to the NCAA Tournament took a legitimate hit Saturday. The Gators don’t have a sexy résumé -- just two Top 50 wins -- and now a team that struggles on the road must play three of their next four games away from Gainesville. 

“It’s a very tough loss for us,” White said. 

“As I told our guys, the next two will be a lot harder than this one. You’ve got to take care of your home floor. It only gets tougher from here.”

The Gators, who have the nation’s No. 24 RPI, play at Georgia on Tuesday and at South Carolina next weekend and now find themselves in the middle of a muddled race in the conference standings. 

"We need every win," Finney-Smith said. 

"That would have been a great win for us, but now we got a tough week ahead."

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

February 11, 2016

Bullard, Hargreaves among eight Gators invited to combine

GAINESVILLE -- Florida will have plenty of familiar faces at the 2016 NFL Combine, as eight former players were officially invited Thursday to participate in the event at the end of the month. 

UF’s cadre includes all five juniors who turned pro early, and only Alabama (9), Notre Dame (10), Ohio State (14) and UCLA (9) had more players invited than the Gators.

* DL Jon Bullard (17.5 TFL, 6.5 sacks)

* CB Vernon Hargreaves III (4 INTs, 4 PBUs, 23 tackles)

* LB Antonio Morrison (103 tackles, 12.0 TFL, 2.5 sacks)

* FS Keanu Neal (96 tackles, 2.0 sacks, 1 INT)

* DE Alex McCalister (9.5 TFL, 6.5 sacks)

* TE Jake McGee (41 receptions for 381 yards, 4 TDs)

* WR Demarcus Robinson (48 receptions for 522 yards, 2 TDs)

* RB Kelvin Taylor (1,035 yards, 13 TDs) 

Senior cornerback Brian Poole was notably not invited to participate. Poole did suffer an injury in the East-West Shrine Game in January. 

Hargreaves and Bullard are regarded as potential first-round picks, while Neal is reportedly climbing draft boards already. 

The NFL Combine runs from Feb. 26-29 in Indianapolis.

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

February 10, 2016

Florida holds off Ole Miss, sweep the Rebels on the season

GAINESVILLE -- On ’90s night, Florida needed an old-school effort to continue its march toward the NCAA Tournament. 

The Gators (16-8) equaled last season’s win total with a nail-bitting 77-72 win over the Ole Miss Rebels on Tuesday, overcoming a sloppy offensive performance with a gritty defensive effort and some timely shots late. 

With 1:19 remaining and the shot-clock winding down, enigmatic guard Kasey Hill hit a circus shot off the glass to give UF a three-point lead. After another key defensive stop, freshman guard KeVaughn Allen delivered the dagger with a deep 3 on the very next possession. 

“What a big play that was,” Florida coach Mike White said, who moved to 2-0 against his alma mater this season. 

“What a huge play. We were stifled. Searching. Kasey came up with big play.”

The Gators had five players score in double figures, with senior forward Dorian Finney-Smith carrying load (16 points, 6 rebounds) once again. Allen finished with 15 points and Hill had 10, while UF center John Egbunu chipped in a double-double (14 points, 10 rebounds).

Hill had another poor shooting night (just 2 of 7), but the junior tallied a team-high six assists and locked down the SEC’s leading scorer, holding Stefan Moody to 19 points on 11 shots. Hill harassed Moody all game, recording three steals and forcing Ole Miss’ senior guard into eight turnovers. 

Moody, who had scored at least 21 points in every conference game entering the night, never found his rhythm and was plagued by foul trouble throughout. He eventually fouled out on a charge with 1.09 remaining. 

Meanwhile, Florida struggled mightily against Ole Miss' zone, getting outscored 28-14 off turnovers and consistently settling for poor shots. However, the Gators played with a persistent energy and tenacity on the defensive end, oftentimes spirited by an unlikely contributor.    

Sophomore forward Devin Robinson, not known for his defense, delivered a fantastic effort, drawing the offensive foul on Moody to seal the victory. 

Robinson had 15 points on 5 of 7 shooting, adding a career-high three charges. The 6-7 forward drilled a pair of 3s in the second half and spurred Florida’s 7-0 to end the first half with a pair of hustle plays (shot-block leading to a transition 3, drawing a charge). 

“I thought this was the best game of his career,” White said. 

“It’s the best day that Devin’s had since I’ve coached him.”

With the win, the Gators moved to 13-1 at home and host Arkansas on Saturday at 5:30 p.m.

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton


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